DETAILS of how the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) plans to spend the N37 billion for the controversial renovation of the National Assembly are beginning to emerge.
Investigation by The Nation revealed that chief among the renovation expenditure item is the dome, which is said to be “leaking profusely.”
“Its requires an extensive repair work,” a source said yesterday.
A source said it would have been wrong of the National Assembly management to wait for the leaking dome to collapse before drawing the attention of the executive to it.
Also earmarked for major refurbishment, according a source familiar with the project, is the cooling system at the National Assembly.
The source said the cooling system has been faulty for several years now and is due for an overhaul.
There is also the public address system which, according to source, needs to be upgraded.
The present system, one source said, often hinders lawmakers from making contributions from their allotted seats.
Another major part of the planned renovation is what sources called “general chamber restructuring for both chambers,” which embodies the creation of cubicles for language translators.
The National Assembly complex is said to be one of the few legislative chambers in the world without such essential facility.
Similarly, the scanning machines at the entry points of the National Assembly have long broken down, constituting a security risk if not replaced, sources said.
Findings online showed that an original smith baggage scanner ranges between N20million and N25million, while a walk through body scanner costs between N9million and N10million.
If all the entry and exit points of the National Assembly Complex are to be fitted with both baggage and body scanners, no fewer than 30 machines made up of 15 baggage and body scanners each would be required.
Fifteen baggage scanners at the price of N20million would cost N300million while 15 body scanners at N9million each would amount to N135million.
The sources did not say how much would be spent on specific areas of need, but explained that the National Assembly would not be directly involved in the renovation contracts.
The fund is accommodated in the 2020 budget of the FCDA.
Many Nigerians are displeased with the huge budget for the NASS renovation.
Critics wonder how such an amount could be spent on ‘mere renovation’ at a time millions of Nigerians are languishing in hunger and poverty.
They want the project either cancelled or scaled down.
But sources said the planned repairs “are not just renovation but a major restructuring to bring the National Assembly up to modern standard.
“The National Assembly is not a government within a government. It is an arm of government. So the project at issue is for an arm of government which has been approved by the executive,” one of the sources said.
He added: “The National Assembly is a national monument and the planned renovation is in the national interest. You cannot begin to compare prices because things are not the same way as they were when the building was constructed a few decades ago.
“The National Assembly is the only legislature where a Senator or House member would have to beg his colleagues to be able to leave his seat either going to the convenience or tea room because of the limited space and leg room between the rows of seats.
“The dome is leaking and we cannot wait for it to collapse and the management pointed this out to the executive. The FCDA which has the requisite capacity to determine the current status of the edifice came in and made their assessment and estimates.
“Thankfully, the executive captured the amount in its budget under the FCDA to renovate the White House (main legislative building) which is the first phase of the renovation works.
“Apart from the dome, which is leaking, the entire structure needs restructuring in line with modern legislative buildings and chambers across the world. The only model legislative chambers are the ECOWAS parliament located at the International Conference Centre and the ECOWAS Secretariat in Asokoro, District.
“Don’t forget that it was through the efforts of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament that the structure was redesigned and refurbished to reflect its present modern status.
“We know that Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has gone to court to stop the renovation; we are waiting to see the court pronouncement on that. We don’t know whether the court will say that a valid law should not be implemented.
“Don’t forget that the 2020 Appropriation Bill is now a law having been signed by President Muhammadu Buhari. I don’t believe that the judiciary which is an arm of the government would rule that the federal government should not carry out a critical national project simply because the renovation has to do with the National Assembly complex.
“Added to this is that the project is that of the federal government. Just like it takes care of other national monuments like the Federal Secretariat, the Supreme Court, Appeal and Federal High Court buildings, the National Assembly should not be left to decay.
“The money is not in the budget of the National Assembly and the project or contracts for the project would not be undertaken and awarded by the National Assembly. That is the duty of the FCDA that superintends over all national buildings in Abuja.
“You would have noticed that for some time now, the cooling system in the chambers often malfunctions leading to excessive heat, which is not conducive for effective law making.
“Besides, the communication and public address systems have often broken down leading to lawmakers not being able to make contributions from their allotted seats.
“This is because the communication is being fed into obsolete software. The software upgrade is not what you can just pick from a market stall. You need to go to the developers and manufacturers for upgrade. And this is priced in dollars.
“Don’t forget that there was a time a particular foreign government wanted to address the National Assembly but this had to be shifted outside the National Assembly because there is no provision in the chambers for language translation which is a common feature in parliaments across the world.
“Go to the ECOWAS parliament during session and see how translators ensure that the varied people present can make their contributions without necessarily speaking English language. Don’t forget that ECOWAS parliament is made up of Anglophone, Francophone and Portuguese-speaking countries. Go to the National Assembly chambers and see if you can find translation cubicles as obtains in modern parliamentary buildings.
“Don’t forget that the law says you can address the parliament in your language so long as other members at the session can understand you through interpretation gadgets. But this has not been possible because there is no infrastructure to enable translation inside the chambers hence the mandatory use of the English language during deliberations.”
Repeated efforts to obtain the breakdown of the fund from the FCDA, the main government institution driving the planned renovation, failed.
No official agreed to go on record about the N37bn renovation budget.